Estimates of emissions and removals from the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector in Ireland are “highly uncertain,” according to the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC). In its Annual Review 2023, published last week, the CCAC stated that the provisional estimates of emissions from this sector for 2022 are largely unchanged compared to 2021.
Unlike the agriculture sector, which is required to cut its emissions by 25% by 2030, a national emissions reduction target for 2030 has not yet been assigned to the LULUCF sector in Ireland. However, Ireland has committed to a target of net emissions reduction of 0.6MT of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) by 2030 under the EU’s LULUCF regulation. The CCAC highlighted that emissions from the sector are projected to increase during this period, and Ireland is not on track to meet the EU-mandated emissions reduction.
The CCAC also emphasized that there is a lack of certainty over the estimates of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from and removed by the LULUCF sector in Ireland. In relation to forestry, one of the key activities in this sector, the CCAC review noted that the rate of afforestation nationally remains well below the target of 8,000ha, with only 2,273ha planted in 2022.
The review also acknowledged “good progress” in the rewetting and rehabilitation of peatlands owned by Bord na Móna, a semi-state company. However, the CCAC stated that significant progress in improving the management of other peatlands “has not been demonstrated.” The CCAC recommended that the government fully consider the agreed EU LULUCF target when establishing the national emissions reduction target for the sector.
Furthermore, the council strongly recommended that the government allocate the necessary resources to streamline and accelerate processes to implement the new Forestry Programme 2023–2027, following state aid approval. The CCAC review highlighted an “improved understanding” of the impact of afforestation on drained peatlands, indicating that historical planting on these lands had adverse impacts on climate and biodiversity. The CCAC recommended that the government provide landowners with resources and practical guidance to effectively manage these areas, including options for rewetting and rehabilitation to enhance their carbon storage capacity and resilience to climate change.
The review also suggested that a review and revision of the primary legislation regarding afforestation and the management of existing forests should be considered. The CCAC took a strong stance on the extraction of peat for horticultural use, stating that it is unsustainable and must cease. The review claimed that there are still enterprises extracting peat without planning permission or an environmental license. The CCAC recommended that the government, in collaboration with industry, invest in research and development to identify alternative sustainable horticultural substrates.